Archive for March 14th, 2020|Daily archive page

Return to The Box – Three Imaginary Boys

The next handful of photos from The Box.

beach trio bathers england vintage photograph

It’s certainly in Britain – it has postcard printing on the reverse including “British Made”. It has the feel of a South coast town – maybe Kent. Or perhaps further West. I don’t recognise the people – if anyone is related it’s the boy. It could be my grandfather, Ian, whose box this was. On the back of the photo in pencil is written I Harris in childish, non-joined-up handwriting.

The swimming costumes are old-fashionedly modest one-pieces. The man on the right’s has something written on it – tantalisingly all we can see under his folded arms is “S S”. His Chaplin (or perhaps slightly broader than Chaplin) moustache is of a time. The man on the left is pretty dench.

In the background are equally modestly dressed female bathers. The beach looks fairly rammed and tents or huts take up plenty of space. The scene is redolent of Victorian England though probably it is the early 20s (if that boy is my grandfather – who was born in 1915). The house on the right looks pre-Victorian, probably Georgian.

It’s striking that the photographer is in the water too, so presumably he’s using light-weight equipment without a tripod. His (I assume) composition is slightly eccentric with nearly half the shot made up of shallow sea.

In the sea is the number T668. It doesn’t feel like it’s on the surface of the print. There are tiny white dots in the figures as if it’s been scratched into something. No idea what T668 signifies.

toy car vintage photo

This next one has also got postcard printing on the back but no handwriting: Post Card – For Correspondence – Address Only. There is just an inky fingerprint – adult – my grandfather’s I hope.

I don’t recognise the boy – he looks less like my family than the bathing boy above.

The sleeves of his knitted jumper are noticeably short – bad knitter or hand-me-down? He has leather boots, shorts, and that cap, so perfect for driving.

The cycleable car is very old fashioned – more carriage than automobile, with its carriage lantern, thin wheels and boxy body-work. It is nicely finished with its striping, detailed radiator and number plate. So quite a posh looking toy.

It looks like he’s in a front garden, with no fence between it and the street, US-style. No sign of big-boy cars in the road. An open, quiet corner of a bygone age.

choc and marie vintage family photograph

These boys I do recognise for sure – and their parents. The taller boy is my grandfather so this must be around 1926/7. The shorter one is his brother Henry, born 1921. Henry became a gardener. He had a magical death – went to White Hart Lane with one of his sons for football and Spurs actually won; went home and did his garden; took a snooze in his favourite armchair – and never woke up again. Way to go. And a lovely man.

The father is Choc Harris (name origin was in The Box). He was a working class man from Dagenham, a cabinetmaker.

The mother, my great-grandmother Marie, was profoundly deaf. I believe this made Ian’s aka Pop’s upbringing difficult in some ways. I think she was quite angry. Her maiden name was Cohen which probably explains how come it is her line I can follow furthest back in the family tree I have been working on sporadically for some years. Her line currently goes back to 1544 in Prague. If she had a religious lineage, perhaps they keep much better records. Her antecedents founded both UCL (university, with Jeremy Bentham) and UCH (hospital) in London where both my boys were born.

Her face is very reminiscent of my grandfather as an adult. She looks slightly taller than my great-grandfather and fairly masculine. They were both born in 1886, making them about 40 in this photo. It looks like they are in a back garden, which may be in Becontree, Essex.

My grandfather, with a hand on both their shoulders, seems to be holding the family together. He’s the smartly dressed one in the group with a jacket and expansive wings-of-a-dove collar (ironic, as in later life he never gave a stuff about what he wore, in contrast to the other (German) grandpa who was positively dapper). He is the darker, solid centre among their pale clothes, the anchor.

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